Sunday, April 7, 2019

International Day of Human Spaceflight 2019

Vostok-1 Display.

This Friday, April 12, is the International Day of Human Spaceflight, also known as Yuri's Night. It commemorates the launch of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, on mission Vostok-1 in 1961. The purpose of this celebration, held around the world, is to help promote space exploration. In the past I have often missed participating in this celebration because I get too busy and the day kind of sneaks up on you and then - Woosh! - it's gone and I look forward to the next year.

I am unaware of any special parties or events at the Clarke Planetarium, but they do have some great planetarium and IMAX theater shows on space exploration. If you haven't got anything planned and want to join in the fun, take in a show. 

As for myself, I am going to celebrate in my own way - playing space games! I will be at GAJO Games in Sandy, Utah at 6 pm to play the new GMT game SPACECORP - the exploration of the Solar System. SpaceCorp is about developing a space exploration corporation, and reaching out to establish new bases and technology in our solar system and beyond. It includes several layers of games. You start by exploring the inner system, the LaGrange points, the Moon, and the first bases on Mars. Then you move into developing the technology and human presence in the farther reaches of the Gas Giants and the outer solar system. Finally you push to be the first explorers to reach out to the nearest stars.

Box cover art for SpaceCorp.

Game Board for the first phase of space conquest.

What else could you do? How about watch a movie or read a book on spaceflight. Or build a spaceship model. You could build a LEGO spacecraft. (I've started getting some LEGO astronaut figures, and there's a large Saturn-V kit awaiting my attention).  Better yet, if the night weather is good and the sky is mostly clear, grab the binoculars, or if you have one, a telescope, and spend some time stargazing at the real space right above us.

Whatever you choose, have a happy Yuri's Night and celebrate the incredible adventure of space exploration!

Sunday, March 3, 2019

SpaceX Dragon 2 Test Begins Successfully

Computer image of what the docking would look like from the ISS.

Space history was made this week as the SpaceX Dragon 2 crew spacecraft launched from Florida's Kennedy Space Center and docked with the International Space Station. 

The unmanned, test version Dragon 2 blasted off from Launch Complex 39B at 02:49 a.m. EST. The Falcon 9 rocket lifted the ship high into the atmosphere before separating from the second stage. The first stage then was guided to a safe, vertical landing aboard the ocean recovery barge "Of Course I Still Love You" (SpaceX has a very keen sense of humor). The second stage propelled the Dragon 2 into an intercepting orbit, on track to rendezvous with the ISS Sunday morning. Docking occurred at 5:51 a.m. EST. The docking was managed by an automated docking computer procedure using the craft's thrusters, to the U.S. built Harmony module. Later crewed missions will allow the astronaut crew to manually take over if necessary during the arrival and docking.

ISS station astronauts moving about inside the Dragon 2 cabin. The seated figure is a test dummy with sensors to allow engineers to monitor what a crewmember would experience on a future flight. A fluffy Earth Character floats nearby in the microgravity environment.

For this test, the Dragon 2 will spend the next few days attached to the station for engineering monitoring and tests. Undocking should occur Friday morning, with the craft returning through the atmosphere to a splash recovery in the Atlantic off the coast of Florida.
The crewed test mission should take place this summer. For more information about the docking of Dragon 2, visit, at:

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Russian Cosmonauts go for a walk

Cosmonaut Sergey Prokopyev releases a tiny nano-satellite into space. NASA TV.

On Wednesday August 15, Russian cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Oleg Artemeyev opened the hatch on the Pirs module just after midnight and stayed out for over seven hours. They completed the tasks of installing the German-made Icarus experiment outside the Pirs module, and also hand-launched four nano-satellites that had been built by Russian science students. 

The Icarus experiment will track the migrations and movements of animals that have been tagged with tiny transmitters. Scientists will study how animal populations have modified their migrations and movements while encountering changes in their environments.

 Artemyev, left, and Prokopyev in a practice for the upcoming spacewalk. Credit: Roscosmos.

This was Artemyev's third spacewalk, and the first EVA for Prokopyev. The next ISS spacewalk will be in September.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Another Dragon, Another EVA for ISS

NASA Astronaut Ricky Arnold moves out of the airlock for his third EVA this year. NASA credit.
June was pretty busy for the crew of Expedition 56. With all of the maintenance and experiments performed by the six-person crew, you'd think they were busy enough! But no, they also had to prepare for a spacewalk and to make preparations for a new Dragon Cargo ship. On June 14, astronauts Drew Feustel (Expedition 56 commander) and Ricky Arnold (flight engineer) performed a6 hour 49 minute EVA to install improved HD camera equipment on the outside of the station.
Expedition 56 commander Drew Feustel led the 6th EVA of the Year.
The two spacewalkers  installed the HD cameras to help improve the view of the upcoming Dragon crewed ship docking and future Boeing Starliner crew vehicle dockings. In addition to the cameras, they moved some grab handles and performed some maintenance outside the Japanese KIBO module.

Dragon cargo spacecraft grappled by the CanadArm2 robotic arm. 
Following liftoff on Friday, and a three-day orbital chase, another Dragon cargo ship arrived at the ISS and was captured by robotic arm on Monday July 2. Astronauts Ricky Arnold, backed up by Drew Feustel, maneuvered the craft to dock at the US-built Harmony module. It carried science equipment, supplies, and biological experiments. Dragon is scheduled to stay at the station for about a month.
Parking is getting pretty limited up there.
With the arrival of Dragon, the ISS ports look pretty full. There are two Soyuz crew vehicles, a Cygnus cargo ship, a Dragon cargo ship, a Russian Progress cargo ship, and the inflatable Bigelow BEAM module attached to docking ports. Soon, however, we can expect further US-built crew ships (Dragon2 and Boeing Starliner) to be arriving for testing. This will make parking very interesting at the ISS!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

ISS: From 55 to 56

Touchdown! Soyuz capsule MS-07 lands after firing retro-rockets in Kazakhstan.

Expedition 55 prepares to enter Soyuz MS-07 before undocking. (L-R) Anton Shkaplerov, Norishige Kanai, and Scott Tingle.

Expedition 55 came to an end officially when the crew of Soyuz MS-07 undocked their ship from the ISS on June 3. Cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov (Roscosmos) commanded the Soyuz and astronauts Norishige Kani (JAX) and Scott Tingle (NASA) occupied the left and right seats.  STaying on board, and commencing Expedition 56, were Commander Drew Feustel (NASA), Ricky Arnold (NASA) and Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos) acting as Flight Engineers.

The Soyuz safely landed on the steppes of Kazakhstan later that day. Three more crewmembers were scheduled to arrive shortly.

The crew of Expedition 56/57 pose before their Soyuz rocket, with its special markings commemorating the 2018 FIFA World Cup. (L-R) Serena Auñon-Chancellor, Sergey Prokopyev, and Alexander Gerst.

 Russian Soyuz rocket blasts off from Baikonur with Expedition 56/57.

On Wednesday, June 6, the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft was sent on a 2-day orbital rendezvous with the ISS. The ship docked on June 8 to the Russian-made Rassvet module. Astronaut Gerst of the ESA is on his 2nd mission to the station, and will assume command for expedition 57.

Recently, the Dragon cargo ship left the station and returned to Earth. On May 24, the Cygnus cargo spacecraft docked to the station with thousands of pound worth of supplies and science experiment support. 

View from the Cuppola on the ISS of the Cygnus cargo spaceship grappled by the CanadArm.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

ISS: Expedition 55 Having a good start to Spring!

Current Spacecraft docking at the ISS. Credit: NASA.

Spring has gotten off to a good start up in Low Earth Orbit. When the Expedition 54 crew left the station on March XX, it left only three crew aboard: Expedition 55 Commander Anton Shkaplerov (Roscosmos) Norishige Kanai (Japan) and Scott Tingle (NASA). They did not have long to wait. On March 23, the reinforcements arrived on Soyuz spacecraft MS-08, docking at the Russian-built Poisk module. Joining the crew was Soyuz commander Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos), Dr. Andrew Feustet (NASA), and Rick Arnold (NASA). Comprising the Expedition 55/56 crew, they are all veterans of spaceflight with Artemyev having already visited the ISS for six months in 2014. Dr. Feustel flew aboard shuttle Atlantis in 20009 with the Hubble Servicing Mission, shuttle Endeavor's final mission in 2011 (STS-134), and already has six EVAs to his credit. He will The Expedition 56 commander at the end of Expedition 55. Astronaut Arnold flew aboard shuttle Discovery in 2009, delivering the last set of solar panels to the ISS.
MS-08 approaches the station.
Nice view of MS-08 passing below the already-docked Progress cargo spacecraft.
 The last week of March was a busy one for the full crew. On March 28, ISS crewmembers closed the hatch on Progress 68P, having removed all its cargo and replaced the cargo with trash and waste items. The Progress ship undocked from the Russian-built Pirs module and was maneuvered into a lower orbit. Russian ground controllers are using the craft for some engineering tests, until they are ready to de-orbit the craft on April 25 and let it burn up over the Pacific Ocean.

Progress 68 just getting ready to undock as the ISS flies over the Atlantic Ocean.
The next day, March 29, two of NASA's astronauts went outside for a spacewalk, the fourth of the year. Astronauts Feustel and Arnold performed an EVA for a little over six hours, replacing worrisome cables on a cooling system, installing a TV camera, and placing a new communications antenna on the US Tranquility module. 
Drew Feustel on his March 29 EVA. This makes 7 EVAs in his career.
With the spacewalk completed, astronauts began preparing for their next visitor. On April 2, SpaceX launched another resupply mission to the ISS using the Falcon 9 re-usable rocket and the Dragon cargo spacecraft. Mission CRS-14 brings the station a plethora of science equipment as well as consumables and regular maintenance items. Dragon reached the station and docked on April 4 to the US Harmony module. It will remain on the station until May.
Dragon CRS-14 approaches the station over the magnificent colors of our planet.
 Next big event for the station crew will be the end of Expedition 55 in April.


Saturday, March 3, 2018

Soyuz MS-06 Returns to Earth with Expedition 53/54

Soyuz Descent module under its parachute heads towards a landing in Kazakhstan.

On Monday, February 26 the Expedition 54 came to an end during a Change of command ceremony. Cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov will command the station starting Expedition 55. They will be joined on March 21 by astronauts Ricky Arnold and Drew Feustel (NASA) and Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos).
Expedition 54/55 enjoying space before the Change of Command Ceremony.

The Soyuz capsule landed on the cold wintery steppes of Kazakhstan early on Tuesday. They were quickly joined by recovery crews flying in by helicopter and were carefully retrieved from the cramped descent module. For Soyuz commander Alexander Misurkin, he now has his second spaceflight complete. He took part in a record-breaking Russian EVA on February 2, and now has a total of 4 spacewalks in his resumé. Astronaut Joe Acaba has now completed three spaceflights, with three EVAs total. Astronaut Mark Vende Hei has completed his first space mission, and now has a fantastic four EVAs to his credit.